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ENG-ER-LAND at Dulwich College Edward Alleyn Theatre

ENG-ER-LAND: an insightful and touching story set in 1997 from the perspective of Lizzie, (Hannah Kumari) a teenager from Rugby describing her clear passion for football (a big Coventry City fan), and the anxiety that comes with not knowing if she fits in being half Indian and half Scottish. The narrative explores the thoughts and feelings behind mixed-race identity, and the idea of ‘Englishness’. Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair, known for having written and directed 40 plays over the last 20 years along with several feature films, shorts and tv episodes and series.

Hannah Kumari - Photographer Ali Wright.
Hannah Kumari – Photographer Ali Wright.

The character of Lizzie is sweet-natured, kind, enthusiastic and naive. Hannah Kumari conveys this well with convincing gestures, for example the numerous times she exclaims “Oh My God” she curls up into herself, hands flying to her face, pitch rising and projection growing rapidly, she conveys enormous amounts of energy and unbounded enthusiasm to the audience. You instantly like the character, and feel in safe hands. Admittedly the story took a while to get going, but once we had reached the “bus to the match” moment, the narrative really drew us in.

Kumari’s delivery of the lines successfully made the audience laugh out loud at the hilariously relatable ‘90s references, as well as her interactions with the other characters in the story. Our hearts broke with her at the devastatingly sad and scary realisation of the prejudices of some fans, and truly drew the audience in, to understand the seriousness of the situation. I felt we got the most out of Kumari’s performance here, she convincingly portrayed the damage of what happened to her but also the hope that there is a brighter future.

The one drawback of the performance was the projection at certain points. Whether this was down to the volume of the sound effects or unfamiliarity of the venue, unfortunately, it was at times difficult to hear the words (although Kumari’s annunciation was impeccable, sometimes this wasn’t enough for the audience). However, it certainly did not spoil the performance.

The narrative successfully conveyed the sense of community that football brings, and the scary reality that some football “fans” are not always there to support the sport or the team playing.

The direction from Beadle-Blair was very good, firstly with successful use of the space – Kumari bounding from one side of the stage to the other with youthful enjoyment. Additionally, with the use of levels: from lying down to jumping as high as possible, the character truly took up space and included the audience in the story. Bravo.

Ultimately, this was 45 minutes of unrestrained joy with moments of sadness and humorous moments. Nearly the full package, as it certainly comes close but isn’t quite there yet. Hannah Kumari is sure to go far, and I highly recommend keeping an eye out for Kumari and Beadle-Blair’s future works.

3 Star Review

Review by Kimberley Bourlet

1997:Last year England made it to the semi-finals of Euro 96, Gina G came third in Eurovision and 13-year-old Lizzie went to her first in-person football game: Coventry vs. Manchester City. Not the Man City of today, oil and superstars, but the old Man City – a bit rubbish, but with good fans. Lizzie fell in love with the beautiful game that day, and she’s been obsessed ever since. But then something happens to make her question her place in the stands. ENG-ER-LAND is an energetic play about who’s really on your team.

ENG-ER-LAND!
Wednesday 9 February 2022
7.30pm – 8.30pm
Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College
https://www.dulwich.org.uk/

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